The Best Martin Sheen Movies, Ranked

The Best Martin Sheen Movies, Ranked
Martin Sheen Best Movies

Martin Sheen's extensive filmography is packed with an array of captivating performances showcasing his immense acting range. Ranking his best movies is no easy task. But some roles stand out as defining highlights of Sheen's legendary career. From his shattering portrayal of a haunted Vietnam soldier in Apocalypse Now to emotionally complex turns in Badlands and The Way, Sheen has delivered powerhouse performances that linger in the memory. He effortlessly morphs into troubled souls, charming scoundrels, principled authorities, and even chilling villains. Sheen brings raw intensity, nuance, and charisma to every role. His risk-taking acting style produces electric results. In this ranking of Martin Sheen's top films, we revisit some of his most unforgettable achievements and acting high points. Sheen remains a magnetic performer whose stellar work elevated many great movies.

10. Gandhi (1982)

Martin Sheen in Gandhi (1982)

In Richard Attenborough’s sweeping biopic of Mahatma Gandhi, Sheen has a small but vitally important role as Vince Walker, a cynical foreign journalist who helps expose the violent realities of British colonial rule in India. Though his screen time is limited, Sheen adds gravitas and thoughtful perspective to this historical epic through his insightful performance. His journalistic tenacity and growing moral awakening help underscore Gandhi’s profound global impact.

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9. The Incident (1967)

Martin Sheen in The Incident (1967)

This tense, low-budget drama finds Sheen in an early starring role as one of two criminals who terrorise subway passengers after the train breaks down. As the volatile Joe Ferrone, Sheen brings compelling physicality and volatility to the part, showcasing his magnetism even in the darkest of roles. Though a limited release at the time, The Incident stands as an early showcase for Sheen’s explosive on-screen presence and willingness to take on challenging material.

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8. Gettysburg (1993)

Martin Sheen in Gettysburg (1993)

Sheen brought his stately gravitas to this sprawling historical drama as General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate army. Though the film focuses more on the Union perspective, Sheen has some finely nuanced moments conveying Lee's dignity, tactical wisdom, and quiet anguish over the Civil War’s immense bloodshed. While not a substantial role, Sheen’s thoughtful presence provides the Confederate side with palpable humanity.

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7. The Subject Was Roses (1968)

Martin Sheen in The Subject Was Roses (1968)

Martin Sheen delivered a breakout performance in this emotional family drama, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Sheen stars as Timmy Cleary, a young soldier who returns home after World War II. He finds his parents' marriage decaying and his household filled with bitterness and alcoholism. Sheen brings heartbreaking intensity to the role, showcasing his immense acting talent. Though the film itself is stagey, Sheen’s raw performance earned him widespread critical praise and his first Oscar nomination. The Subject Was Roses marked the emergence of a brilliant young actor who would become one of the most acclaimed stars of his generation.

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6. The Dead Zone (1983)

Martin Sheen in The Dead Zone (1983)

In this underrated Stephen King adaptation directed by David Cronenberg, Sheen plays Greg Stillson, an ambitious and unscrupulous politician who will let nothing stand in the way of his quest for power. It’s a chilling performance, with Sheen portraying Stillson as a smiling charlatan in public and privately, a volatile egomaniac. When Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) shakes his hand and gets a psychic vision of Stillson causing a nuclear catastrophe as president, it sets up a race against time to stop him. Sheen makes Stillson a memorable King villain, showcasing the sinister allure of demagoguery. The Dead Zone proved Sheen could convincingly play against type as an antagonist.

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5. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Martin Sheen in Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Steven Spielberg’s lively caper film featured Sheen in a small but impactful role as Roger Strong, the FBI agent chasing after artful dodger Frank Abagnale Jr (Leonardo DiCaprio). Though he has limited screen time, Sheen manages to create a fully realised character, showcasing the dedication, humanity, and quiet dignity of an old-school lawman. In his modest, earnest performance, Sheen provides the moral counterweight to Abagnale’s freewheeling crimes. Their motel scene together, where Strong gently persuades Abagnale to turn himself in, is quietly devastating. Sheen managed to craft one of Catch Me If You Can’s most memorable characters.

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4. The Departed (2006)

Martin Sheen with Mark Wahlberg and Jack Nicholson in The Departed (2006)

Martin Sheen had a scene-stealing supporting turn in Martin Scorsese’s crime epic as Captain Queenan, the no-nonsense head of the Massachusetts State Police department’s special investigation unit. Gruff but principled, Sheen’s Queenan serves as a father figure to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan, recognising his potential as an undercover cop. Sheen accomplished a great deal with minimal screen time, creating a convincing portrait of a veteran cop wearily trying to uphold justice in a world of blurred morality. His sudden death at the hands of crooked cop Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is a gut punch that underscores the stakes. The Departed proved Sheen could make a big impression even in a cast full of stars.

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3. The Way (2010)

Martin Sheen in the touching, The Way (2010)

Sheen gave one of his most poignant late career performances in this thoughtful drama written and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. He stars as Tom, an American doctor who travels to France to collect the remains of his estranged son (Estevez), killed while hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Deciding to complete the journey himself, Tom embarks on a physical and spiritual odyssey. Sheen is stellar as a closed-off man slowly opening up and rediscovering joy and community. His emotional, nuanced acting carries the film. With its breathtaking scenery and themes of connection, family, and redemption, The Way showcased Sheen in a deeper, more soulful role.

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2. Badlands (1973)

Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Badlands (1973)

Sheen has never been better than in Terrence Malick’s mesmerizing crime drama, loosely based on the Starkweather murders. As Kit Carruthers, a garbage collector who goes on a killing spree across the South Dakota badlands with his teenage girlfriend Holly (Sissy Spacek), Sheen delivers a complex, charismatic, and chilling performance. With his disaffected voiceover narration and laconic swagger, Kit makes violence seem almost casual. Sheen makes him terrifying yet readable, a vacant soul who chillingly rationalizes even the most brutal acts. Badlands announced Sheen as a dynamic star with range far beyond his years. His mercurial work still feels electric.

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1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Martin Sheen gave the performance of a lifetime in Francis Ford Coppola’s psychedelic Vietnam War epic as Captain Willard, a troubled Special Forces officer assigned to assassinate rogue Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Willard’s nightmarish journey upriver is paralleled by Sheen’s raw and fearless descent into his own private hell. Shooting the film nearly killed Sheen, as he suffered a heart attack and nervous breakdown. But that behind-the-scenes trauma enriches his work on screen. With haunting voiceovers and a shell-shocked stare, he completely embodies a man dissolving into madness. Apocalypse Now stretches Sheen to his artistic limits; he delivered what’s undoubtedly his finest and most iconic performance.

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Over his extensive career, Martin Sheen has given a series of tremendous performances across a diverse array of films. At his best, he taps into deep wells of emotion with subtle nuance and charisma. From searing portrayals of troubled souls to perfectly calibrated supporting turns, Sheen has proven himself to be a consummate actor. His towering achievement remains his shattering work in Apocalypse Now, but his skills have enriched many other films. Martin Sheen's dedication, intensity, and sheer ability shine through in every role, cementing his status as one of the all-time greats. He remains an unforgettable cinematic chameleon.


What are Martin Sheen's most acclaimed films?

Some of Sheen's most acclaimed films include Apocalypse Now, Badlands, The Way, and The Departed. He received widespread critical praise for his intense performances in these movies.

What was Martin Sheen's big breakout role?

Sheen's portrayal of Timmy Cleary in 1968's The Subject Was Roses marked his breakout role and earned him his first Oscar nomination. His raw, emotional performance announced him as a major new talent.

Did Martin Sheen win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now?

No, despite giving what many consider his finest performance in Apocalypse Now, Sheen was not nominated for an Oscar for his work in the film. The intense and demanding role took a huge toll on him, both physically and mentally.

How many Oscar nominations does Martin Sheen have?

In total, Sheen has been nominated for 4 Oscars over the course of his career but has never won the award. His nominations were for The Subject Was Roses, Badlands, Wall Street, and The Departed.

What was Martin Sheen's last great performance?

Many consider Sheen's role in 2010's The Way, directed by his son Emilio Estevez, to be among his last truly great performances. He stars as a father, completing the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage after his estranged son's death.

Is Martin Sheen mainly known for movie roles or TV roles?

While Sheen has given fantastic performances in many great films, he is likely best known for his TV roles, particularly President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing.

Which directors did Martin Sheen frequently collaborate with?

Some of Sheen's closest director collaborators were Terrence Malick, David Cronenberg, Oliver Stone, and his son Emilio Estevez. He starred in multiple films with each.

What range has Martin Sheen shown as an actor?

Sheen has demonstrated immense range in his acting career, convincingly playing intense dramas, charming rogues, sinister villains, principled authorities, and more. His skills have enriched many genres.

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